Over the past few years many people have asked me to write a blog, me, I’m not even on Facebook! But, I do like writing and relish the opportunity to share our Italian adventures with you.
Was it the classic midlife crisis move, maybe, maybe not, I like to think of it as making the most of life. In 2001 we had reached a cross roads in our lives, and the desire for adventure and change were strong. With four children almost grown up, we saw a window of opportunity, and jumped!
People frequently ask me why Italy, why Le Marche, quite simply we fell in love. Let me explain, up until a few years ago I had never visited Italy, we had travelled extensively around Europe and lived in America for a few years, but Italy remained undiscovered.
Out of the blue my husband, Michael, was invited on a business trip to Florence, and asked if I would like to join him, of course I jumped at the chance to visit the one country I had been longing to see.
I was so excited, landing in Pisa and catching the bus into the centre of Florence, I was finally in Italy for two whole days. As with every weekend, at home or away, there is always an important game of rugby on TV. Michael searched out a bar with sky TV to watch the game that afternoon. I was determined to make the most of the short time we had, plus I knew the shops were fabulous. I have a terrible sense of direction, no inbuilt compass, no natural feeling of north, south, east or west. Sometimes I get hopelessly lost, but these are the times I discover hidden gems. Florence was no exception, I was lost in minutes, wandering the crowded narrow streets which often led onto a beautiful piazza. I found a little café in the heart of the city, and ordered a cappuccino, my first lesson in Italian etiquette, don’t order cappuccino after 11am, it’s bad for the digestion!
One of the reasons I love what I do at Appassionata so much is because I get to meet some really wonderful people. I am very opinionated, (quite a few people would tell you that, including my husband Charlie!) but I’m also passionate about everything I do… what is the point of doing something, anything, if you don’t throw yourself into it and do it properly? It’s a philosophy which guides everything I do at Appassionata, it’s ‘how we do things’.
Please allow me to explain.
A month ago when I was in the UK I got a lovely email from a lady who was enquiring about our property, Casa Tre Archi.
Casa Tre Archi
She had seen us advertised in Gate-Away’s e-newsletter. They were going to be in Puglia looking at properties and after seeing our advert decided to come up to Le Marche and visit us. Immediately I got a good vibe from her, she was very pleasant and asked all the ‘right’ questions. We had several emails back and forth and then 2 weeks later I was meeting them in Petritoli to show them around. Colleen, Duncan and Angus arrived just before lunch. After a long drive from Puglia on a rather warm day they were happy to be here. I showed them around and they didn’t give much away in terms of interest levels, but this is quite normal- usually the people who come and are gushing about everything from start to finish are the people you don’t hear from again.
I left them to enjoy some lunch with the local groceries I had brought for them and then we arranged to meet for dinner at Re Squarchio, our local Osteria, where we would also be joined by my parents, Dawn and Michael.
Ristorante Re Squarchio
For our business its very important to us that people meet us and we meet them. I won’t go as far as to say that we have an interview process where if you score less than 90% you don’t qualify but we seem to be able to tell instantly upon meeting people if what we are offering is going to be suitable for them and for us. We do seem to attract very likeminded individuals, families and couples. They all have a deep love of Italy and all it offers, they are all wanting to make a change in their life, setting aside time for themselves, family and friends, away in their home from home. Many of our owners have high powered/stressful jobs and so when they come here they re charge, relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility.
After a lovely meal out with the Rouse family and having spoken to them a little bit more about the house and the buying process we said good night and they wondered up to the local café to have a gelato and a digestivo. They said that they would be in touch but in the meantime would I send them the contracts and one of the current owners details so they could talk to them about their experience.
Within 2 days Duncan called and said that they had decided to buy. We were delighted as they are lovely people and we knew that they would fit in perfectly as part of the Appassionata family.
They have now completed the purchase process and chosen their 5 weeks to use this year and we are looking forward to welcoming them back in August. From viewing to becoming owners in Casa Tre Archi took 15 days.
So back to where I began. I knew instantly that Colleen was someone who, like us, was passionate about Italy, and together with her terrific sense of humour, shared by her husband Duncan and their son Angus, we had a fair amount in common; they were likeminded people, both with us, and our other owners, the Appasionata family, and we’re delighted that they have joined us.
The clocks have gone forward an hour, our evenings are longer and lighter and the air feels different, it smells of summer. This is the time of year to de-clutter and spring clean, both at home and work!
The last few weeks here in Le Marche (where? I hear you say… on the east coast of Italy about half way down the boot), my husband is relieved that I am no longer sneaking the thermostat up on the central heating! I’m actually going around the house and throwing open windows, letting the blend of mountain and sea air float through the rooms, bliss.
In our house I have to admit that every month a ‘Spring Clean’ has to take place. With two small children, a dog and my husband, there is a constant trail of mess! I turn my back for a few seconds after cleaning one area to find that Millie-Mary, our young daughter, has decided to tip up the bag of toys I’ve just packed away! Cornflakes are found in the bath, the dog’s water bowl has been tipped over again, and the neatly stacked pile of clean laundry has been thrown around the lounge! It’s a never-ending game…
However, in my business life things are different. When a Spring Clean takes place at Appassionata HQ, it really does happen, and we can step back and be proud of what has been accomplished and really see and feel the change.
During the past week on Estate Giacomo Leopardi, Charlie and his team have been very busy. The exterior of Casa Giacomo has been painted, the main gates stained and all the plants (including hundreds of lavender) have been pruned. It looks wonderful- all fresh and clean, neat and tidy. Over the next couple of weeks similar work will be happening in Casa Leopardi.
Casa Tre Archi
Casa Tre Archi, the house we are currently marketing, now has all its garden furniture out on the roof terrace. With newly potted plants on both the roof terrace and the decked garden area, its now ready for owner’s to sit outside, relax and enjoy their surroundings.
Most exciting of all is the big ‘Spring clean’ on our website. After 3 years we thought it was now time to update and de- clutter our old site and go for a cleaner, slicker and more elegant site.
We have grown and matured over the last few years and so to reflect this we are creating a more sophisticated website. Colors, fonts, images and style will now reflect the business Appassionata is today.
Having just completed a two day intensive course in London with e-consultancy (highly recommended) on digital marketing, I now have a real understanding around the value of a website to a business. The importance of making your website work for you and getting as much traffic to your site as possible.
I found it very interesting and learnt so much- and I’m sure the information I have gained will be a huge help as I move forward in helping to grow our business over the coming years.
Having recently been handed the reins to the Appassionata’s social media accounts including facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest etc, it’s amazing to see what grabs people’s attention and what doesn’t. We are delighted to have welcomed many new followers throughout our social media channels and we hope you will all enjoy watching us grow.
Exciting times ahead for the Appassionata Team. Keep a look out for our new website coming soon…..
Are you amongst the many people who are put off the idea of looking at something you know you like, and think you’d be interested in buying, because you don’t want the usual spiel that many sales people bore you with?
Take me, I travel fairly frequently and like to purchase things, like many women do, in duty-free. However, if one of the overly smiley and falsely jolly shop assistants comes over, and starts pestering me about how my trip was, where I am going to now etc. at 7am as I’m browsing, I will often just walk out, as I want to decide, in peace, which perfume or lip gloss I want to buy, without any pressure.
I like to take this into account when I have clients coming over to view our properties in Le Marche, where we sell fabulous homes as fractional ownerships. A slightly bigger purchase I know than a £60 perfume or £25 lip gloss, but still these things matter.
We want people to immerse themselves into the beautiful region of Le Marche, to discover the place we hope they will decide to call home in Italy.
As they drive along the coast road and inland to the rolling hills, scattered with vineyards olive groves and stunning towns quite literally perched on top of hills, many of our visitors drive with the windows down, as fresh, sea air meets mountain air, and we know it’s hard to do anything other than relax.
As you drive up into the medieval town of Petritoli, you’ll see the locals, who will be curiously looking at what’s happening; for many of them, this has been home for… well forever. A trip down to the coast, just 20 minutes away is as far away as they’ve ever been.
Pulling in front of the ancient three arches, an unmistakeable gateway to the town, you will feel like you are stepping back in time. Walking along the narrow cobbled streets, dotted with cafés, bars and restaurants you will feel the warm, yet curious, welcome of the locals.
We will be here to meet you, and show you around our unique property, Casa tre Arche. But don’t worry, there will be no power point presentation, or heavy, pressured sales pitch. Far from it, we are here to show you the treasures that lie within, and to answer any questions you may have, usually over lunch or dinner, with you as our guests… a very Italian experience.
Where possible, and if Casa Tre Archi is available, we love our prospective clients to be our guests for the night, so that during their discovery trip they get the best possible chance to see and feel what a special place this really is.
The Romans were familiar with the secrets of producing a fine ham; they knew that the low humidity, gentle breeze and the climate near the Northern Italian Alps was ideal for meat preservation. Even before them, the Etruscans believed these conditions to be so perfect that they actually improved the quality of the meat itself.
But it was actually the Gauls who refined the process and it is their legacy that continues today in the traditional processes of producing a prosciutto crudo, a fine delicacy that is held in high regard by the Italian people. To this day, very little has changed in the process of taking a raw haunch and turning it into a delicious ham.
The air-dried hindquarters of a pig have been treasured since ancient times, with the Italian word for ham, prosciutto, deriving from the Latin perexsuctus, which means ‘deprived of liquid’; however, some experts say the word comes from the Italian verb prosciugare (to drain).
For years connoisseurs of good food have always considered ham to be the best part of the pig and debates still remain unresolved about which of Italy’s two most famous hams, Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham) and Prosciutto di San Daniele, is the best. Both of these famous hams are registered DOP Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) products and have had this protected status for many years; to retain this accolade, they must continue to meet stringent standards and must be produced within a strict geographic area dictated solely by the European Union.
Prosciutto di Parma
To qualify to become a Parma ham, the hind thigh must come from a nine-month old pig bred in one of the eleven EU-stipulated regions and weighing no less than 150kg. The pig must have been fed a carefully regulated diet of cereal, grain and, importantly, whey that has been produced during the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese.
The legs are trimmed and marked with a certification of authenticity before being sent to one of the traditional curing houses that centre around Langhirano, in the Parma region.
Salt is the only ingredient used during the curing of Parma ham and the use of any chemicals is forbidden. After the first salting, the ham is stored inside a chilling chamber with an 80% humidity and hung for 7 days; following this, the ham receives a second salting and then is hung in a drying chamber where it loses around 4 percent of its weight.
Eighteen days later, the ham ‘rests’ at 75% humidity in a cold room for a further 70 days before being washed to remove the salt and then hung in vast rooms on specially manufactured wooden frames called scalere. After a further three months of being subjected to aromatic natural breezes, the hams are slathered with sugna, a mixture of lard, salt and pepper to prevent drying too rapidly, and, after a seven-month period, the ham is tested with a porous needle carved from the leg bone of a horse to determine its maturity. Once a twelve-month period has elapsed and the ham has reduced its weight by a third, it is then eligible to receive its Ducal Crown stamp of authenticity.
Prosciutto di San Daniele
This premium ham has been produced for centuries in San Daniele and Sauris in Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s northern-eastern region around Udine. The salty, sweet ham differs from Parma ham, which only uses the thigh, by using the whole leg including the trotter.
The small black pigs that are fed a diet high in acorns, which experts say gives it its unique flavor, are specially reared in San Daniele to produce short plump hindquarters rather than wide, fat ones.
The process of curing is similar to that of Parma ham, but less salt is used to produce a redder, sweeter tasting ham, which, according to some prosciutto aficionados, when acquainted with the higher altitude and drier air, produces a superior quality product to the Parma ham. But in truth it really is all down to individual taste.
Every Italian region produces its own prosciutto, and whether you’re eating a salty Tuscan, prosciutto toscano, or a non-salty Umbrian, prosciutto di Norcia, you can guarantee that the quality and flavour will have been well worth taking time to produce.
The restaurant and cafe Castello de Marte, or “Castle Of Mars”, is located in the main square of the beautifully preserved, historic medieval walled town of Cossignano, ten minutes from the Adriatic coast.
Cossignano’s hilltop position dominates the countryside providing breathtaking views over the “Piceno” as this picturesque area of central Italy is known.
Operating as a tavern since the early 1950s, Castello de Marte was carefully restored in 2003. The original building dates from the 15C and the sensitive restoration retains the historic architectural character, while charming decorative touches provide personality and add to the warm and relaxed atmosphere.
Lunch in the evocative dinning room, take an aperitivi in the bar or dine on the tiled, colonnaded terrace overlooking the Renaissance square, whatever you chose you are guaranteed a warm welcome and an experience to remember.
Menu Complete: 28€
Antipasta * Primo * Secondo * Salad * Dolce
Mineral Water * Coffee * House Wine
Antipasta: (appetizers) 13€
Local cheeses, cured hams, salami, melon, rocket salad, grilled aubergine, fried courgette and olive ascolane “fecandò” (a surpise from le marche)
Primo: (pasta) 7€
Homemade tagliatelle with mushrooms porcini or tomato ragù
Secondo: (main course) 12€
A traditional assortment of grilled meats “grigliata mista”
Italian sliced beef “tagliata”
served with, rocket salad, parmesan cheese, tomato salad or mixed salad
Pinocchio Restaurant in Ranelagh, Dublin will once again play host this Thursday June 19th to a diverse group of Italian artisan food producers.
Companies large and small from the province of Pesaro & Urbino in the Marche district of Italy have flown in especially for the event in the hope of meeting Irish restaurateurs, food and wine importers and chefs.
The Flavour of Italy Group, owners of Pinocchio Restaurant, have co-ordinated the attendance of more than a dozen producers in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce of Pesaro and Urbino. These producers will showcase everything from olive oils, to honeys, meats, pastas, truffles, wines and much, much more.
The organisers are very eager for the owners, managers, food and wine importers and chefs of restaurants to come along, but everyone involved in the food and wine industry is welcome and the event is completely free to attend. Some inspirational food based on the traditions of the region will be served throughout the day and the event runs from 10am to 5pm.
The opportunity to meet with producers and discuss and taste their products is a unique one so the organisers are hoping for a good turnout. So, ci vediamo presto!
Often translated as “the Marches,” this Central Italian region has it all. Pristine beaches and rugged shorelines hug the sapphire-blue Adriatic. Rolling hills lie covered with vines and olive groves. There are well-preserved medieval towns and cultural centers, wonderful cuisine and great wines.
A cradle of the Renaissance, Urbino rivals even the most famous towns in Tuscany and Umbria for its grandiose architecture, rich history and impressive art collections.
Many of Urbino’s elaborate stone buildings were constructed in the mid- to late-1400s under the rule of Duke Federico da Montefeltro, one of the 15th century’s most dedicated patrons of the arts.
During his reign, Urbino was one of Europe’s greatest cultural centers. Visiting scholars, painters and poets would stay at Federico’s magnificent Palazzo Ducale, now home to Le Marche’s national art gallery.
Renaissance name-dropping here can bring art historians to their knees. Sandro Botticelli designed the intricate inlaid woodwork decorating the Duke’s private study. Among the masterpieces housed in the gallery are Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation of Christ as well as works by Raphael and Titian (known in Italy as Tiziano Vecellio).
But Urbino’s Renaissance connection goes deeper than one palazzo. Leonardo da Vinci planned the 15th-century reconstruction of the city’s original Roman walls. In 1483, Raphael was born here. Visitors to the artist’s home can see a fresco that he painted at age 14.
Urbino is just a short ride from Acqualagna, which shares the title of Italy’s white truffle capital with the town of Alba in Piedmont. Set inside Acqualagna’s Gola del Furlo Nature Reserve, Antico Furlo is celebrated for its truffle-based dishes and other locally sourced ingredients, including mushrooms from the nearby Apennines.
The local wine is the generally simple and quaffable Colli Pesaresi. Most common is a light, fruity red made predominantly from Sangiovese.
In Pesaro, Fattoria Mancini makes wines with greater elegance and depth, like its Colli Pesaresi Focara, a red made using Pinot Noir propagated from vines originally planted in the area during the Napoleonic administration in the early 1800s.
Mancini, whose spectacular vineyards overlook the Adriatic, also makes a Colli Pesaresi Roncaglia, a white blend of the native Albanella with Pinot Noir.
But, according to Alberto Melagrana, chef and owner of the Antico Furlo restaurant, the best wine to pair with the local white truffle dishes is Verdicchio.
“Contrary to popular belief, structured white wines pair better with truffles than reds,” he says. “A full-bodied 2 or 3-year old Verdicchio that’s been aged in casks and has good alcohol content is the best.”
Nestled between mountains and the sea, Jesi is home to one of Italy’s greatest white wines, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi.
Though there are no vineyards in the city itself, Jesi is the ideal starting point to tour the surrounding wine country. It’s also not too far from the smaller Verdicchio di Matelica denomination.
“In the last few years, Verdicchio has received more awards and mentions from the Italian wine guides than any other white wine in Italy,” says Alberto Mazzoni, director of the Istituto Marchigiano di Tutela Vini, the region’s largest growers’ union.
During the 1960s, a cheap, cheerful version of Verdicchio was one of Italy’s best-selling white wines both domestically and in major export markets like the U.S.
But by the 1970s, quality nosedived as large firms churned out industrial quantities to satisfy demand.
Verdicchio’s newfound respect is the result of massive investments in the vineyards and improved winemaking.
“In 1983, when I began bottling my production, I cut yields down to half of what the production code stipulates,” says Ampelio Bucci, one of the leaders of Verdicchio’s renaissance. “And instead of planting new vines or international grapes, I decided to work with old Verdicchio vines.”
Aged in large Slavonian casks, Bucci’s full-bodied, complex and mineral-driven wines, especially his Riserva, soon caught the attention of wine critics and connoisseurs worldwide.
Encouraged, other producers started focusing on quality over quantity. These days, Verdicchio quality has never been better.
Besides acting as the gateway to Verdicchio, Jesi’s maze of cobbled streets and ancient buildings are worth a visit. Leave the industrial sprawl below and go directly to the walled medieval center, the birthplace of Frederick II, one of the Middle Age’s most powerful Holy Roman Emperors.
The Palazzo Pianetti is a must see, noted for its rich collection of artwork, including those by 16th-century artist Lorenzo Lotto. Jesi also hosts the Enoteca Regionale, which carries more than 400 Marche labels, making it an ideal introduction to the region’s dynamic wine scene.
Just a short drive away in the seaside town of Senigallia is Uliassi, recipient of two Michelin stars. Chef Mauro Uliassi serves creative interpretations of local seafood specialties like smoked spaghetti with clams and grilled cherry tomatoes.
One of Italy’s premier white wines, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi features peach and almond flavors brightened by crisp acidity. Riservas, aged longer prior to release, offer moderate cellaring potential, up to several years. Top estates include Villa Bucci, Umani Ronchiand Garofoli.
In the Verdicchio di Matelica region, higher altitudes and a closed valley create a cooler microclimate than in the Jesi denomination, yielding wines with intense aromas, brisk acidity and marked mineral accents. Collestefano is one of the area’s rising stars.
Le Marche’s most beautiful beaches are situated inside the stunning Conero Natural Park. Even though these seaside resorts draw crowds in July and August, you’ll have the beaches pretty much to yourself in May, June and September. Some of the more isolated and hard-to-reach beaches are never crowded, even during peak season.
One of the most seductive spots along this strip of the Adriatic coast is Portonovo, once a simple fishing village. Located at the foot of Monte Conero, Portonovo’s white pebbly beaches, rocky shorelines and luminous green bay are set against a backdrop of the park’s woods and dense Mediterranean brush.
Just between the beach and park are two small salt lakes that attract rare birds and other species that thrive in the pristine reserve. After soaking up the sunshine and swimming in the crystal clear waters, take a short walk to the ancient church of Santa Maria di Portonovo.
Surrounded by old, twisted olive trees, the church overlooks the bay. Built by Benedictine monks in the 11th century, the perfectly preserved structure is a jewel of Romanesque architecture.
For a delicious meal on the beach, try Clandestino, a sushi bar and casual restaurant that’s operated by star chef Moreno Cedroni. His main restaurant in Senigallia has received two Michelin stars.
Mezzavalle and Le Due Sorelle are two nearby destinations. From Portonovo, Mezzavalle is a 15-minute walk along a steep, rugged footpath, making it a haven for sea lovers and hikers looking for unspoiled beaches. Another wild, pristine beach, Le Due Sorelle is accessible only by boat.
Heading away from the shore, Monte Conero offers numerous walking and mountain bike paths of varying levels of difficulty, offering stunning views of the sparkling sea below.
Monte Conero is home to Rosso Conero, a robust red wine that must be made from a minimum of 85% Montepulciano and a maximum of 15% Sangiovese. Most producers use exclusively Montepulciano.
With its fruity sensations of black cherries and raspberries, Rosso Conero is usually best enjoyed in its youth, especially if it hasn’t been aged in wood.
More structured wines from the Conero Riserva DOCG are usually best after four or five years.
In the south of Le Marche, near the region’s border with Abruzzo, Ascoli Piceno is one of Italy’s little-known jewels.
The striking city center is made entirely of travertine, an ivory-colored stone that’s been used here since Roman times, first to construct dwellings and temples, and later, churches, palaces and municipal buildings.
Even the pavement tiles in the city’s main square, the Piazza del Popolo, are made of travertine. Any visit to Ascoli Piceno should begin here, at the beating heart of the city.
Flanked by the imposing gothic Church of San Francesco, the 13th-century Captain’s Palace and the 16th-century vaulted Merchant’s Lodge, the piazza seems to glow when the light hits a certain way.
Many residents still walk in the square each evening to catch up with neighbors and friends, a custom now abandoned in most Italian cities.
Stop in at Caffè Meletti, located in one corner of the square, for pastry and an espresso in the morning or an aperitivo in the evening. Its Liberty-style architecture is a nod to Old World refinement and charm.
The recently reopened restaurant on the top floor serves delicious, creative interpretations of traditional cuisine, including olive all’Ascolana—fried olives stuffed with a mixture of meat, Parmesan cheese, vegetables and herbs.
This delicacy is made with the Tenera Ascolana olive variety, which, as the name suggests, are tender and fleshy. The local olive oils are among the best in Italy.
Walking is the best way to visit the city and take in the numerous Romanesque churches and medieval towers. In Piazza Arringo, stop at the Cathedral of Saint Emidio, named after the city’s patron saint and, according to local legend, protector against earthquakes. Inside, marvel at the intricately frescoed ceilings and vaulted crypt.
Outside of the town center, visit the Malatesta Fortress and the Cecco Bridge, as well as the temple of Sant’Emidio alle Grotte, built into the hillside.
Ascoli Piceno is in the Rosso Piceno denomination, which spans 120 towns in four provinces. Given the vast territory and the flexible blending regulations (varying amounts of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and other varieties), this red wine generally lacks identity and also has variable quality levels.
One of the estates making good Rosso Piceno is Le Caniette. Rosso Piceno Superiore hails only from the Ascoli province, which local producers maintain has the best growing conditions.
Yet, the most interesting wines from the undulating hills around Ascoli Piceno are white, especially the small production of Offida Pecorino DOCG.
Nearly extinct in the early 1980s, the Pecorino grape was saved by local winemaker Guido Cocci Grifoni, who, after years of experimentation, made his first vintage of 100% Pecorino in 1990.
Because of its intense floral aromas of acacia and jasmine, rich white-fruit flavors, creamy texture and mineral notes, more wineries are now producing this fascinating wine, which pairs well with fish and white meats.